SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2013

During spring break 2013, students, faculty and staff are taking a nine-day bus ride through the American South to visit civil rights landmarks and leaders in the movement. Political Science Professor Dennis Simon leads the pilgrimage with the SMU Chaplain’s Office.

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Reminders of racism

An update from Hayley, a junior majoring in anthropology, French and human rights:

Day three was a really fun, rejuvenating day! I managed to stay awake for the documentary about Nashoba County on the way from Jackson to Philadelphia. The story is so fascinating.  I found it so sad when Chaney’s mother was interviewed, saying that if none of the victims had been white, then her son’s case never would have been touched. It was honestly despicable. His family had to suffer just like the other two victims’ families.

The most enraging part of the film, however, was any interview with Killen.  That he could still harbor so much hatred for a people that had never done anything to him was unbelievable. It reminded me that, especially in Mississippi, racism still exists today.  I also found it very interesting that the whole case is still a tender topic because many of the perpetrators are still alive. I wonder if more details will emerge after there are no more witnesses.

By far my favorite part of the day was going to the service at Stevens Chapel. The environment was so welcoming, and I was grateful that the congregation warmly took us in. Ray’s speech was unbelievable and so moving. I actually found it very refreshing that this church provided an example of how Christianity (or any religion for that matter) and human rights can be reconciled. These days it seems like Christianity has been attributed to more hatred (Westboro Baptist, for example) than good, and I was so proud of this church for proclaiming equality.

The environment was so fun with everyone engaged in the service, and I felt like a part of the community.  Also, that our group contains Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Christians and atheists made the experience especially powerful.  Regardless of religious beliefs, we could all agree on the fact that “no one ‘deserves’ anything.”

It was also an incredible experience to drive to Mt. Zion UMC.  As we were passing through the forest, all I could think of was that this is one of the last sights that Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman saw.  The forest has a strange spookiness about it, especially when you consider what happened there: KKK meetings, kidnappings and murder.

On a more positive note, I really enjoyed listening to Mrs. Jules talk, especially after seeing her in the film earlier this morning. She has an amazing story and I admire her work in forming the Philadelphia Commission and seeking justice.  She is a true leader of her community and I am honored to have spoken with her.

Later in the evening during our reflection time, I found out that one of the people in the room had been related to the African-American “snitch” who alerted the KKK about the freedom school at Mt. Zion. I had wondered what was going on when Mrs. Jules circumvented the question about inside informants. It seems that the community is still very tender about this subject, and I understand why. I just hope that our curiosity did not make the situation too awkward. Pastor Peggy relieved some of the tension by picking up the slack in conversation, and I found it interesting that she confirmed the snitch rumor.

Even 50 years after this crime I could see the toll the agony of human loss took on the community.

The congregation at Mt. Zion was so sweet and the meal was DELICIOUS! I haven’t had real Southern cooking in a long time, and I definitely missed it!

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    2 Responses to Reminders of racism

    1. Rickie Clinton Wright - SMU 1977 says:

      What an amazing commentary! It is wonderful that SMU provides this program. I will be taking some high school students on a college and cultural tour this summer and would like to know the name of the film that is referenced in the above post. Is it possible for alumni to participate in this program?

      • Sarah Hanan says:

        Hello, Rickie,

        Thank you for your question; I’ll send on to Dr. Simon.

        Bests,
        Sarah

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